All About Russian Nouns

By OptiLingo

Brief introduction to Russian nouns, including masculine and feminine nouns in Russian

Understanding grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. When learning the Russian language, it’s important to note that all Russian nouns are either masculine, feminine or neuter in gender, though neuter nouns make up only around 20% of all Russian nouns, with the balance being fairly evenly split between masculine and feminine.

If noun gender is a new concept to you, then it may be tempting to think that masculine and feminine nouns are driven by gender; while this is sometimes the case, it is not always the case. While it is true that words like father and brother (отец and брат) are masculine, while words like mother and sister (мать and сестра), the gender of a noun can often be determined by the last letter of the noun. As a general rule of thumb:

Russian masculine nouns:  end in a hard consonant, the letter –й and often the letter –ь

Russian feminine nouns:     end in the letters –а, –я or –ия

Russian neuter nouns:        end in the letters –о, –е or –мя

often loan words ending in –и or –у are also neuter

It is important to note that while the rules above are generally true, they are not always true. For example, there are several masculine nouns that end in –а and –я that “break” the rule because these nouns refer to people of the masculine gender. Examples would include: man (мужчина), uncle (дядя) and grandfather (дедушка).

Grammatical Case and Declension

Some view grammatical case and declension as intimidating topics. This need not be the case, as these are very simple topics. It’s important that you have a solid understand of these terms, so before we dive into their application in Russian, let’s first define them and make sure you understand the underlying concepts to keep from making any mistakes.

Grammatical case, or simply “case” for short, defines how a word functions in a phrase or sentence. In English, there are three grammatical cases:

Nominative (also known as Subjective)

Accusative (also known as Objective)

Genitive (also known as Possessive)

The nominative case refers to subjects in phrases or sentences—these are the nouns that are doing the action of a verb. The accusative case refers to direct objects—these are nouns that are directly receiving the action of a verb. The genitive case is limited to pronouns, and shows possession. Let’s look at a quick example in English to illustrate these concepts:

Do you see him? No, I see his car.

In this sentence, “you” is in the nominative case, because “you” are doing the action – seeing. The word “him” is in the accusative case, because “him” is receiving the action of the verb—it is “him” that is being seen. In the second part of the example above, “his” is in the genitive case. The word “his” shows that “he” owns something—the car.

This last point serves as a segue into the concept of declension. As noted above, the word “his” is the genitive case of “he”. When a word is modified as it moves from one grammatical case into another, this is referred to as declension.

Declension in English is very week, and is largely limited to possessive pronouns.

He –  him –  his

She –  her –  her (no change)

They –  them –  their

These are all examples of declension in the English language.

To summarize, then, grammatical case defines how a word functions in a phrase or sentence, and declension is the process of modifying a word to place it into a different case.

Now that we’ve defined these concepts, let’s move on to understand how they apply to the Russian language.

Russian is governed by six grammatical cases, which are summarized below. Modifications of words from the nominative case into other grammatical cases is done through declension. The nominative case is how words appear in dictionary form.

Summary of Russian grammatical cases:

Nominative:               Used for words that are subjects of a phrase or sentence

Accusative:                Indicates that a word is the direct object of a verb

Genitive:                    Demonstrates possession

Dative:                        Indicates that a word is the indirect object of a verb

Instrumental:             Shows the means by which an action is performed or achieved

Prepositional:            Used with the Russian prepositions about (о / об), at (в / во) and on (на)

Noun Declensions

Russian nouns are divided into animate nouns (animals and people) and inanimate nouns (things). It is important to remember that the accusative case of masculine nouns is the same as the nominative if the noun is inanimate, and the same as the genitive if it is animate.  For feminine nouns, this rule applies only to the plural.

Masculine nouns:

Declension for nouns with hard-endings: проспéкт (inanimate) avenue; кот (animate) cat.

Singular

Plural

Nominative

проспéкт

кот

проспéкты

коты́

Genitive

проспéкта

котá

проспéктов

котóв

Dative

проспéкту

котý

проспéктам

котáм

Accusative

проспéкт

котá

проспéкты

котóв

Instrumental

проспéктом

котóм

проспéктами

котáми

Prepositional

проспéкте

котé

проспéктах

котáх

Note that if the noun stem ends in a silent (ж, ч, ш, щ), the genitive plural ends in ей (like a soft-ending noun): врач (doctor) -врачéй; нож (knife) -ножéй.

Declension for nouns with soft-endings: мавзолéй (inanimate) mausoleum; гель (inanimate) gel.

Singular

Plural

Nominative

мавзолéй

гель

мавзолéи

гéли

Genitive

мавзолéя

гéля

мавзолéев

гéлей

Dative

мавзолéю

гéлю

мавзолéям

гéлям

Accusative

мавзолéй

гéль

мавзолéи

гéли

Instrumental

мавзолéем

гéлем

мавзолéями

гéлями

Prepositional

мавзолéе

гéле

мавзолéях

гéлях

Feminine nouns:

Declension for nouns with hard-endings: нóрма (inanimate), standard, дáма (animate), lady.

Singular

Plural

Nominative

нóрма

дáма

нóрмы

дáмы

Genitive

нóрмы

дáмы

нóрм

дáм

Dative

нóрме

дáме

нóрмам

дáмам

Accusative

нóрму

дáму

нóрмы

дáм

Instrumental

нóрмой

дáмой

нóрмами

дáмами

Prepositional

нóрме

дáме

нóрмах

дáмах

Declension for nouns with soft-endings: потéря (inanimate), loss; боль (inanimate), pain.

Singular

Plural

Nominative

потéря

боль

потéри

бóли

Genitive

потéри

бóли

потéрь

бóлей

Dative

потéре

бóли

потéрям

бóлям

Accusative

потéрю

бóль

потéри

бóли

Instrumental

потéрей

бóлью

потéрями

бóлями

Prepositional

потéре

бóли

потéрях

бóлях

Note that nouns in ия end in in ии the dative and prepositional singular, and in in ий the genitive plural: регистрáция, check-in-регистрáции (dative), регистрáции (prepositional), регистрáций (genitive plural).

Neuter nouns:

Neuter nouns are always inanimate, so the accusative is the same as the nominative.

Declension for nouns with hard-endings: окнó, window; soft-ending in е: мóре, sea.

Singular

Plural

Nominative

окнó

мóре

óкна

моря́

Genitive

окнá

мóря

óкон

морéй

Dative

окнý

мóрю

óкнам

моря́м

Accusative

окнó

мóре

óкна

моря́

Instrumental

окнóм

мóрем

óкнами

моря́ми

Prepositional

окнé

мóре

óкнах

моря́х

Declension for nouns with soft-ending: врéмя, time.

Singular

Plural

Nominative

врéмя

временá

Genitive

врéмени

времён

Dative

врéмени

временáм

Accusative

врéмя

временá

Instrumental

врéменем

временáми

Prepositional

врéмени

временáх

Neuter nouns in ие (just like feminine nouns in ия), end in ии in the prepositional singular and in – ий in the genitive plural: значéние, meaning-значéнии (prepositional), значéний (genitive plural).

Irregular Nouns

As in any language, there are exceptions to every rule. Many loan words do not decline in Russian – their endings do not change. Some common examples include the following:

кинó (cinema)            – Borrowed from the German kino

пальтó (overcoat)     – Borrowed from the French paletot

метрó (subway)         – Borrowed from the French metro

такси́ (taxi)                 – Borrowed from the French taxi

Spelling exceptions

Additionally, there many nouns that change spelling when they undergo declension. This is due to Russian spelling rules. Remember that ы cannot come after г, ж, к, х, ч, ш or щ. It is replaced by и. Therefore: вечери́нка (party) –вечери́нки (parties) and долг (debt) →долги́, debts.

In some nouns that end in a consonant in the nominative, the vowel that comes before the final consonant disappears in other case endings that end in a vowel: отéц, father (nominative singular) –отцá, father (genitive / accusative singular).

In nouns that end in a vowel in the nominative but whose stem ends in two consonants, a buffer vowel is inserted between the final two consonants in other cases. This vowel is о before a final к: сýмка, bag сýмок (genitive plural).

Prepositional nouns ending in –у

Some masculine nouns in the prepositional case end in у (always stressed) after the prepositions вand на:

наберегý         (on the shore)

вэ́томгодý      (this year)

влесý               (in the forest)

намостý           (on the bridge)

наносý             (on the nose)

наполý            (on the floor)

всадý               (in the garden)

вшкафý           (in the cupboard)

After other prepositions, the prepositional ends in the usual е: яговорю́ олéсе/ осáде, I am talking about the forest / the garden.

Irregular nouns ending in the plural –а

Many masculine nouns have a plural that ends in stresses –a (or я for soft-ending nouns). The most common are:

áдрес               (address)         → адресá

бéрег                (shore)             → берегá

вéчер                (evening)         → вечерá

глаз                  (eye)                →глазá

гóрод                (city)                → городá

дóктор              (doctor)           → докторá

дом                   (house)            → домá

лес                   (forest)            → лесá

нóмер               (hotel room)    → номерá

óстров              (island)           → островá

óтпуск              (vacation)      → отпускá

пáспорт            (passport)      → паспортá

пóезд                (train)             → поездá

тóрмоз              (brake)           → тормозá

учи́тель            (teacher)        → учителя́

хóлод               (cold)             → холодá

цвет                  (color)            → цветá

Irregular plurals

Some neuter nouns have an irregular plural:

колéно            (knee)              → колéни

нéбо                 (sky)                → небесá

плечó              (shoulder)        → плéчи

чýдо                 (miracle)          → чудесá

Irregular plural in –ья like брáтья

Some masculine nouns (like лист, leaf; брат, brother) and some neuter nouns (дéрево, tree; крылó, wing; перó, feather) have an irregular nominative plural in ьяand genitive plural in – ьев. The soft sign appears through all the plural endings:

 

Singular

Plural

Nominative

брат

брáтья

Genitive

брáта

брáтьев

Dative

брáту

брáтьям

Accusative

брáта

брáтьев

Instrumental

брáтом

брáтьями

Prepositional

брáте

брáтьях

Irregular plural in –ья like друзья́

Other masculine nouns with a nominative plural in ья(друг, friend; муж, husband; сын, son) are similar to nouns like брáтьяbut their genitive plural ends in ьей. The stem consonant also often shifts. These are monosyllabic nouns (with one vowel) with stress on the plural ending. Despite this difference, they keep the soft sign through all the plural endings:

Singular

Plural

Nominative

друг, муж, сын

друзья́, мужья́, сыновья́

Genitive

дрýга, мýжа, сы́на

друзéй, мужéй, сыновéй

Dative

дрýгу, мýжу, сы́ну

друзья́м, мужья́м, сыновья́м

Accusative

дрýга, мýжа, сы́на

друзéй, мужéй, сыновéй

Instrumental

дрýгом, мýжем*, сы́ном

друзья́ми, мужья́ми, сыновья́ми

Prepositional

дрýге, мýже, сы́не

друзья́х, мужья́х, сыновья́х

* –ем after ж, ц, ч, ш and щ if the ending is unstressed: мýжем. If the ending is stressed, then ом: карандашóм.

The feminine nounмать is irregular

Singular

Plural

Nominative

мать

мáтери

Genitive

мáтери

матерéй

Dative

мáтери

матеря́м

Accusative

мать

матерéй

Instrumental

мáтерью

матеря́ми

Prepositional

мáтери

матеря́х

The stress falls on the first syllable through the singular and in the first person plural. In all other persons of the plural, the stress is on the last syllable. For example, человéк, man, is an irregular masculine noun:

Singular

Plural

Nominative

человéк

лю́ди

Genitive

человéка

людéй

Dative

человéку

лю́дям

Accusative

человéка

лю́дéй

Instrumental

человéком

людьми́

Prepositional

человéке

лю́дях

 

Diminutive Noun Suffixes

Russian has a lot of diminutive suffixes. Here are a few examples:

Feminine diminutive suffixes:

ка: дáча, dacha + кадáчка,small dacha.

очка: рóза, rose + очкарóзочка,little rose; after sibilants, this suffix becomes ечка: лóжка, spoonлóжечка, teaspoon.

Masculine diminutive suffix:

чик: фонтáн, fountain + чикфонтáнчик, small fountain.

Note that when the noun ends inл, a soft signь is inserted before the suffix: скандáл,scene + чикскандáльчик, little scene.